Pentagram’s Sascha Lobe and Yuri Suzuki rebrand Midi, the tech that changed music forever
As the Midi Association releases Midi 2.0, its biggest update in 35 years, the two designers have created an identity inspired by musical forms – yet devoid of any music brand cliches.
- Jenny Brewer
- 20 January 2021
In 1981, Midi technology changed the way musical instruments communicated and opened up a whole new world of possibility for music creators globally. It allowed for products by different manufacturers – instruments, computers and audio devices alike – to connect to one another seamlessly, sparking the genesis of computer music sequencing programmes and all the audio possibilities that it offered. Now, Midi is the industry standard, used every day around the world, yet the Midi Association only recently introduced Midi 2.0, its most significant update in 35 years. This invited an opportunity to rebrand, which has been undertaken by not one but two Pentagram partners (and musicophiles) Sascha Lobe and Yuri Suzuki.
“For us as music makers and lovers, this [project] was a real highlight,” Lobe tells It’s Nice That. Lobe and Suzuki have previously worked together on the Pentagram Fives playlists, a daily curated edit of music and visuals to help motivate Pentagram staff during the first lockdown, as well as a three-part playlist for The Design Museum’s Electronic: From Kraftwerk to The Chemical Brothers exhibition. “Musicians, DJs, producers and artists are all familiar with Midi, so it was a huge responsibility to take on and gratifying to work on at the same time.” Suzuki adds that the project was “an honour… as a music-maker, I grew up with Midi. I still remember the first Midi interface from when I first used my old Mac LC2 to start composing music. After that, all my composition processes involved Midi.”
The brand identity for Midi 2.0 is inspired by musical forms, which lend their shapes to the typographic design. For example, references are made to the Stuttgart pitch, an oscilloscope reading of sine waves at a frequency of 440 Hz, and which serves as a tuning standard for musicians. The word mark also references the shape of Lissajous curves, graphs of a system of parametric equations used to describe complex harmonic motion. The final design represents a modulation shape between 440 Hz – 880 Hz which is globally recognised as a tone for tuning instruments.
With Midi 2.0 introducing new functionality and bi-directionality to work with computers, tablets and smartphones, the new branding “had to reflect the brand’s ‘future-proof’ upgrade and evolution over time,” Lobe explains, “pushing past the 80s look from the former logo”. According to Suzuki, beyond the 80s logo there was “no agreed branding” to speak of, and yet “Midi has completely changed the world of music with its cutting-edge technology,” Lobe adds, which was the catalyst for the duo’s approach to the brand identity design – comprising a new image and logo concept, with an animated sonic logo, typography, sound design, photography and videography.
The sonic identity complements the word mark, mirroring the design in sound. It starts at a pitch of 440 Hz and rises to 880Hz, with subtle wave shape and stereo modulation, while minimal orchestral strings complement the sine waves. Overall it creates an anticipatory feeling similar to that of an orchestra tuning to 440 Hz, Lobe says. “The simplicity and power of these pitches can create a Pavlovian response,” he adds.
Lobe says the new brand is completely novel, in that it “does away with cliches and literal references to the music world… you won’t see any music show imagery, sound equipment and instruments”. Instead, the team looked to “craft the subtleties of soundscapes and underscore the sentimentality of music”. This uses campaign visuals photographed and interpreted by Kimberly Lloyd, which aim to convey the heard and unheard moments created through sound.
“While there may only be an image of weighted balls hurtling down a runway and colliding with one another, people can still imagine the sound,” Lobe describes. “The beauty about this visual interpretation is that sound is omnipresent, even in the calmest calm of aerial photography and cloud gazing from the window of an airplane cruising 35,000 feet over the skies of Mongolia.”
The project took around two years, and saw the designers pool their interdisciplinary practices to create something close to both their hearts. “Midi is something many people have special feeling about or emotional tie to,” Suzuki concludes. “It’s one of greatest achievements in music history. So it was hard to convince all music tech lovers on this. [The process] was not simple, but we invested a lot in it and it’s one we’ll feel proud of for decades to come.”